The highlight of the bloated exercise in self-aggrandizement known as SEC Media Days came literally in the very first minute.
Former Gamecocks head ball coach Steve Spurrier taped the introduction to the SEC Network’s coverage with a reprisal of his famous preseason phrase.
“Welcome to the Super Bowl of Talkin’ Season,” Spurrier said, making everyone pine for the days when he was still doing the talkin’.
The best part of “talkin’ season” is that means playin’ season is right around the corner. College football season starts in 41 days, though any games of real substance involving the Southeastern or Atlantic Coast conferences will have to wait a little longer until Labor Day weekend.
The talkin’, of course, is half the fun. Vanderbilt and Boston College get equal time in their respective conference kickoffs this week in Birmingham and Charlotte. Sports writers then get to prove they’re no better at prognosticating than political pundits – other than picking Alabama to be uncontested.
In the spirit of the season, here are just a few talkin’ points:
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey pretty much shot down the idea of divisional realignment, saying “it is a conversation in most large press conferences in which I appear, and that’s the extent of the conversation.”
His ACC counterpart, John Swofford, called divisional alignment “settled” and “wouldn’t anticipate any change in the near future.”
That said, modest tweaks could go a long way to creating more competitive balance in both the SEC and ACC.
All the SEC would need to do is trade Auburn to the East for Missouri – a more natural fit for both schools. The only real rivalry debit would be the Tennessee-Alabama crossover pairing, since the Iron Bowl would naturally be preserved. I’m sure the Vols coaches (and fans) would come to grips with not having to lose to Bama every year. Make the two Columbias permanent rivals and let Georgia and Tennessee flip for who wants Texas A&M or Arkansas on a regular basis.
The ACC is a little more complicated since it makes no geographic sense because of the original fallacy that Florida State and Miami needed to be separated. Now they’re stuck with FSU, Clemson and Louisville creating a semi-permanent lop-sided Atlantic imbalance.
The simplest option might be swapping Louisville and Georgia Tech, letting Clemson retain the Cardinals as crossover rivals while the Jackets take Virginia.
A more radical solution, however, would be sending Clemson and Boston College to the Coastal in exchange for Georgia Tech and Miami in the Atlantic. Keep the Tigers-Jackets and Flutie Bowl rivalries and make FSU and Virginia Tech crossover foes. All this would create a more competitive ACC championship race, including the possibility of a Clemson-FSU showdown in December with the highest stakes.
Most divisional forecasts follow the same formula: Alabama is a lock to win the SEC West; Georgia is a prohibitive favorite to lose to Alabama in the SEC title game; the Clemson-Florida State winner will win the Atlantic and ACC titles.
Nobody has any clue what will happen in the ACC Coastal’s annual mediocrity round robin. Media consensus at the ACC’s Operation Football has guessed wrongly five consecutive years, sometimes wildly.
Discounting Duke and Virginia, cases can be made for any of the same five teams who contended for the fewest losses in the Coastal last year. Only one of those five – Pitt – doesn’t have to play any member of the Atlantic power troika. The Panthers have a lousy defense but arguably the best offensive firepower to offset it. My guess is the winner of the Miami-Pitt season finale claims the division and the right to lose to FSU in Charlotte.
The most important position in football this season may be the coach wrangler. Strength and conditioning assistant Adam Smotherman keeping animated Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables off the field might help win a critical game.
Officials in all leagues will make coaching behavior a point of emphasis this season, and any coach who steps on the field of play to protest an officiating decision will get an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct foul – which Alabama coach Nick Saban called “a sledgehammer.”
“The goal is really to change coaching behavior,” said Steve Shaw, the SEC’s coordinator of football officials.
That is going to be a challenge for some of the more emotional coaches, and it will require multiple “get-back” assistants to keep them in line as they work on behavioral management. It doesn’t mean they can’t complain.
“So long as they stay on the sideline, things will be okay,” said Dennis Hennigan, the ACC’s supervisor of officials.
“You’d hate to see a game decided by something like that,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “But it’s the rule. We’ve been briefed on it, and we all got to adhere to it.”
Good luck with that. Chances are this will create a massive controversy and a lot more talkin’ at some pivotal point.